Natural Ways to Treat Jaundice in Newborn Babies

Jaundice in newborn babies is common and usually easy to treat. Here, natural ways to treat jaundice in newborns before trying other medical interventions.

Baby looking a little yellow? Jaundice in newborn babies is surprisingly common and usually easy to address. Get the scoop on jaundice and how to treat it.

As you stare at your newborn wondering if he/she looks more like you or your partner, you may be surprised that your bundle of joy is looking more like a carrot instead! Jaundice in newborn babies is very common (and not related to delayed cord clamping!) and, in most cases, easy to treat.

We know it can seem scary, so let’s unpack it. In this post you’ll find:

What is Jaundice in Newborn Babies?

Jaundice in newborn babies occurs when there is excess bilirubin—a yellow tinged component of red blood cells—in baby’s blood. This causes the skin, and sometimes the whites of the eyes, to appear yellow.

Bilirubin levels are naturally highest 3-5 days after birth, so it’s most common for jaundice to occur within 5 days of birth. Jaundice affects an estimated 60% of full-term babies and 80% of preterm babies, and it’s more commonly seen in breastfed infants.

What Causes Jaundice in Newborns?

In adults, jaundice is caused by an overtaxed and poorly functioning liver or gallbladder. Jaundice in newborn babies is similar—it typically occurs because the newborn liver is immature and not functioning at its peak.

Here are less common causes of jaundice in newborn babies:

  • An infection.
  • Baby’s blood is incompatible with the mother’s, causing a reaction.
  • Problems with the digestive system.
  • Internal bleeding from birth injuries like cephalohematoma.
  • Liver malfunction or disease.
  • Certain gene mutations, like Gilbert Syndrome.

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Symptoms of Jaundice in Newborn Babies

Many babies develop mild cases of jaundice, and most clear up on their own as their livers starts to function. Newborns with mild jaundice will have a yellowish-orange tinge to their skin.

Symptoms of mild jaundice in newborn babies can also include: 

  • Lethargy
  • Pale stools (here’s what baby’s poop should look like)
  • Dark urine
  • Trouble feeding or sucking

Moderate to severe jaundice in newborn babies can cause some serious health issues and can include the following symptoms:

  • Baby’s skin gets increasingly yellow
  • The whites of the eyes are yellow
  • The baby is lethargic or listless
  • Has trouble eating
  • Baby has lost more than 10% of his birth weight
  • Jaundice lasts for 3 weeks or more

How to Check for Jaundice in Newborn Babies

Your healthcare provider will check for jaundice following birth (hospitals will check every 8 hours or so) and again at baby’s initial well visit a few days after birth. But you can monitor baby, too.

To check for mild jaundice, put your baby in natural lighting and press your finger firmly but gently on their forehead. If the indentation looks slightly yellow, then it’s probably jaundice.

Is It Fatal for Babies to Have Jaundice?

In most cases, jaundice in newborn babies disappears within 2 weeks and does not require medical care.

But it is necessary and important to monitor any baby with jaundice, since complications are possible.

Fatal complications are rare, but if severe jaundice in newborn babies is left untreated it can cause

  • Acute bilirubin encephalopathy: A build-up of bilirubin in the brain that causes fever, lethargy, excessive fussiness, trouble eating, and arching of the body or neck.
  • Kernicterus (hyperbilirubinemia): A potentially fatal condition caused by acute bilirubin encephalopathy that causes brain swelling. If not fatal, it can lead to permanent brain damage.

If you suspect your baby has a serious care of jaundice, seek treatment immediately. 

Other serious, but rare complications include deafness and cerebral palsy.

Can Vitamin K Cause Jaundice?

Since 1961, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended a vitamin K injection immediately after birth to prevent a rare, but dangerous bleeding disorder (VKDB) caused by low vitamin K levels in infants. 

But some parents are skeptical. The injection contains 20,000 times the amount of vitamin K a baby is born with and 5,000 times the recommended daily amount. Since vitamin K is processed by the liver, which doesn’t begin to function fully until 3-4 days after birth, some parents worry it’s too much for baby’s immature system. (There has only been one reported case of shock from a vitamin K shot.)

There is also concern about the safety of the shot itself. The shot solution contains lots of yucky additives, like phenol, benzyl alcohol, propylene glycol, acetic acid, hydrochloric acid, lecithin, and castor oil. Even the preservative-free version includes agents like polysorbate 80, propylene glycol, sodium acetate anhydrous, and glacial acetic acid.

Natural alternatives to the vitamin K injection

Because VKDB can be very serious, it’s important to research your options, talk to your healthcare provider, and make a decision that you’re comfortable with.

Since it’s extremely rare for formula-fed babies to have VKDB, a supplement isn’t necessary. (Always talk to your doctor before making important medical decisions.) 

For breastfed babies, you can look into an oral protocol with your doctor’s approval. Read more about that and other alternatives to routine newborn procedures here. The point is: You want to provide some type of protection for your baby—VKDB can be fatal, and is on the rise.

Natural Treatments for Jaundice in Newborn Babies

1. Feeding frequently

Feeding your baby frequently can help him kickstart his liver and process the excess red blood cells in his system. As a result, breastfed babies are at increased risk of developing jaundice. During the first few days, baby is receiving colostrum, a nutrient-dense “pre-milk” that is very concentrated and not very copious (only a few tablespoons will satiate a baby!). Compare that with several ounces of formula, you can see why breastfed babies are more at risk.

However, do your best to breastfeed your baby as frequently as possible (without forcing baby to eat!), as this will help her flush the excess bilirubin from her system. If you’re bottle feeding, just make sure baby is getting enough formula. (See this post for the healthiest formula options.)

2. Sunlight

The blue light spectrum found naturally in sunlight helps to break down excess bilirubin to help the body excrete it. Stripping baby down to his diaper and putting him in a sunny spot will do the trick. (Of course you’ll want to be mindful of baby getting too much sun or burning!). In moderate to severe cases, phototherapy—special lights that mimic sunlight to help dissolve excess bilirubin—may be necessary. Talk to your pediatrician.

3. Vitamin D

One study found that babies with jaundice had significantly lower levels of vitamin D compared to the non-jaundiced group. Breastfed moms can supplement with 6,400 IU of vitamin D, which will pass into her milk and boost baby’s levels (source). Placing baby in a sunny spot, as mentioned above, may also help vitamin D levels.

4. Probiotics

A meta-analysis found that probiotic supplementation in newborns helped to significantly improve jaundice symptoms. The probiotics decreased bilirubin levels that cause jaundice and helped the body clear out excess bilirubin. (Find the best probiotics for babies here.)

5. Magnesium

In one study, pregnant women who took 250 mg of magnesium daily for 6 weeks had babies with a 20.6% reduction in excess bilirubin—the red blood cells that can cause jaundice in newborn babies. Try adding these magnesium-rich foods to your diet if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.

6. Barely Seed Flour

As odd as it may sound, researchers found that barley seed flour sifted over a baby’s skin along with light exposure improved jaundice in newborn babies. The barley flour helps decrease indirect bilirubin levels and functions as an antioxidant. This traditional Iranian remedy probably won’t be effective on its own, but it can boost the effects of light therapy.

When Phototherapy Might Be Necessary

When jaundice in newborn babies becomes more severe, and more intensive interventions are necessary, the most common treatment is phototherapy, where the jaundiced baby is placed under an artificial blue light. The light amplifies the effects of sunlight to help break up the bilirubin into molecules that are easily excreted from the body.

Risks of Phototherapy

Phototherapy is a common method of treatment for jaundice in newborn babies, and in the vast majority of cases, is without complications. But there are a few rare risks parents should be aware of:

1. Discoloration

Bronze Baby Syndrome is a rare complication that occurs as a result of phototherapy. Babies who develop this condition get a dark grayish brown discoloration to skin, urine, and serum. No treatment is necessary—it will slowly disappear once phototherapy is discontinued.

2. Purpuric light eruption

In rare cases, babies with cholestatic jaundice may develop blisters or lesions on their skin as a result of phototherapy.

How to Maximize Phototherapy Results and Safety

If your jaundiced baby needs phototherapy, there are ways to maximize the effectiveness and decrease side effects.

Use protective eyewear: It is standard practice for baby to wear protective eyewear during phototherapy, but something parents may want to confirm with their healthcare provider.

Massage: One study found that when phototherapy was combined with massage, bilirubin levels and frequency of bowel movements improved compared to the phototherapy only group.

Feed baby before and after: In addition to being a source of comfort for baby, there is evidence that breast milk contains antioxidants to help baby’s body defend itself from certain health conditions.

Barley See Flour: As mentioned above, dusting barley seed flour on baby’s skin before a phototherapy session can more efficiently decreases bilirubin levels.

What If Phototherapy Doesn’t Work?

Newborn babies who don’t respond well to phototherapy may have an underlying condition, like a urinary tract infection (UTI). In this case, the UTI will need treated in order for the jaundice to clear.

If other conditions are ruled out, your baby’s doctor may recommend an IV if phototherapy isn’t cutting it.

The need for blood transfusions or immunoglobulin, a protein in the blood that reduces antibody levels, is rare but may be recommended in severe cases.

A Note About Phototherapy

Jaundice in newborns can take new parents by surprise. It’s scary to see such a little baby’s skin turn yellow. Remember that jaundice in newborn babies is a treatable condition and generally without complications. Talk to your healthcare provider to come up with a treatment plan that’s right for your baby and make sure to give your newborn a few extra snuggles. Hang in there, mama! ?

How About You?

Did your baby have jaundice? How long did it last? Share your story below.

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 130,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.


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  2. Informative guide on managing jaundice in newborns! This resource provides practical tips for parents dealing with this common concern, offering valuable insights on care and prevention. Don’t forget to explore health discounts for savings on any health service or medicine purchases!

  3. Thank you for this article. It’s effortless to learn something new about it. This was an informative post for us. I would like to keep sharing these articles with others. We are specialised in Manufacturing Vitamins Injections, Vitamin B6 ampoules and all generic medicines to reach sick people.

  4. According to one research, infants with jaundice had significantly lower vitamin D levels than infants who weren’t jaundiced.

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  5. My baby came from phototherapy but still his eyes getting yellow what can I do ?.

  6. Hi, I am very concerned about some of the advice given here, could you please review the following:

    Symptoms of mild jaundice in newborn babies can also include: 

    Pale stools (here’s what baby’s poop should look like)
    Dark urine
    Trouble feeding or sucking

    Pale stools and dark urine are “red flags” for a serious underlying cause for the jaundice and need immediate investigation.

    Lethargy and poor feeding can be signs of another issue, e.g infection and similarly need medical attention.

  7. My baby was tested positive for jaundice, she responded well in phototherapy and her jaundice level went down but from yesterday again her eyes are looking more yellow, Please suggest

  8. Hi doctor, my baby was born in February, diagnosed with prolonged jaundice which we have been managing. His poo has been yellow but we recently started seeing whitish poo which comes like once a week for the past four weeks. He has been on vitamins ADEK. What can I take as a mum that would help my baby improve and what can I add to help my baby improve? He also spits up and vomits too often though he is gaining alot of weight (normal for his age). I am on exclusive breastfeeding. should I stop and start giving him formula?

    • If your baby has had prolonged jaundice and is now having white-colored bowel movements, you definitely need to get another opinion or get him seen again since this can signal something going on with the liver. Hoping you find answers soon!

  9. My baby was tested positive with jaundice and presently she’s undergoing phototherapy but I’m still worried because it seems like it’s not improving. It’s been 6 days already and we are still here at the hospital

  10. Hi, I went to the doctor today for check up and I was told my baby has jaundice being a first time Mom it’s just freaking me out I don’t know what to accept but the doctor said I should place my baby in sunlight every day and breast feed more. I guess i just need that one person to just tell me that my baby is going to be okay.

    • Jaundice can be very normal in breastfed babies. And if your pediatrician was not concerned enough to do additional testing, and sent you home with these recommendations it’s almost assuredly a sign that this is a normal scenario and your baby will be just fine!

  11. Hi…my daughter is 13days old…she has high biliburin like12.99mg …direct biliburin 1.3mg…what should i do to decrease it…please help reduce it

    • These numbers are best translated by your pediatrician/doctor! High bilirubin can be concerning for some babes and not concerning for others. Letting baby have some sun exposure, and making sure they’re getting plenty of breastmilk/formula to help move it through their system may help, but this is really something to discuss with your baby’s doctor. They should be able to explain these numbers and what they mean in detail!

  12. Hi…my daughter is 13days old…she has high biliburin like12.99mg …direct biliburin 1.3mg…what should i do to decrease it

  13. Hi, my son has jaundice. His 3 days old. I took him to the doctor who recommended that he goes for the phototherapy. I’m very afraid, he has trouble urinating as his urine creates a pinkish red powder when I check his diaper. Could this be as a result of the jaundice. His sb level is at 14. Today, I tried to place him in the sun before testing again tomorrow, I hope it helps him. I’m a new mom and it’s very scary to be going through this.

  14. Yes my boy has jaundice from birth ,my mom who is a midwife noticed that it took me three weeks or so to have it cleared by daily exposing him to the early morning sun thank God he became okay..that natural method works superb. my boy is a healthy happy boy now

    • Hi, did you expose him to direct sunlight outside or through a window? Unfortunately, I get no direct sunlight through any windows in my house.

  15. regarding delayed cord clamping, i had my first two boys and did not delay cord clamp and they both had jaundice. my 3rd son i had 10 months ago and delayed cord clamp for 2 hours and he has been the healthiest and heartiest of all. not even a hint of jaundice!

    • My midwife has always done delayed cord clamping, 3 out of my 5 have had mild cases of jaundice.

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